Session Report is a monthly series that explores the intersection of narrative and broader themes of game design by focusing on a specific tabletop game each month.
The same dream on a different day. This labyrinth contains 8 oneiric doors, and I must pass through them all in turn before I can escape. The hallways leading to these doors are limited–they branch and twist and reconfigure themselves at will, but eventually, they will run out, and I will be lost to dream-devouring Nightmares. I toss a key onto the ground, and it becomes a mirror, revealing the way ahead. Moon, key, moon–I have discovered the first brown door while passing through the Master’s library. The labyrinth reconfigures itself. A Nightmare awaits me, impeding access to all known corridors. Sun, moon, sun–the first green door is discovered through the Master’s gardens. Moon, sun, moon, the Master’s observatory leading to the first red door. I cast a key into a Nightmare’s mouth to fend it off. The halls are thinning now; the ways are running out. Sun, moon, sun, and the Master’s aquarium takes me to the first blue door. Another Nightmare lurks, another key discarded. Moon, sun–passing through the observatory, a Nightmare swallows up my options. Another key, another mirror–the Nightmares are thick here, near the end of my journey. I enter the Room of Key to find the last red door. Three more remain. I spin my wheels, passing by now-useless observatory rooms, searching for the garden moon. A key will do–the last green door is mine.
Library now, a Room of Sun…a Nightmare devours the way ahead. As I pass the blue door, I find that I already hold its key. One door remains, but the corridors are almost gone; the dream is at an end. Tonight, I do not escape.
“It was all a dream.”
Some people hate that ending. I don’t actually mind it. Some people think that “It was all a dream” invalidates everything that came before. To me, dreams are merely a different perspective on the same reality. As through a glass, darkly.
Besides, none of it is actually real. You can’t forget that all fiction is handicraft, whereas dreams–true dreams–are ineffable. (I believe that’s from the Latin for “can’t be effed.”)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The Wizard of Oz. Labyrinth. “La noche boca arriba.” Jacob’s Ladder. Total Recall. The Futurological Congress. Audition. The Matrix. Dead End. Abre los ojos. Super Mario Bros. 2. Buffy‘s “Normal Again.” Last Year at Marienbad. Invitation to a Beheading. Vain Art of the Fugue. Mulholland Drive. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. A Nightmare on Elm Street. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” And so forth.
Now Onirim. Designer Shadi Torbey, a Lebanese-German opera singer with a degree in literature, delivers this reverie in partnership with artist Élise Plessis. Its impressionistic art and vague narrative premise–“You are a Dreamwalker, lost in a mysterious labyrinth”–perfectly evoke the maddening non-specificity of dreams, the lingering sense that there is some deeper meaning just beyond reach, that some greater logic dominates.
The same dream on a different day. This labyrinth contains 8 oneiric doors, and I must pass through them in the prescribed order before I can escape. I have found a spellbook, the Book of Steps Lost and Found, that will aid me in my quest. I toss a key onto the ground, and it becomes a mirror, revealing the way ahead. I spin my wheels, passing by useless-for-now observatory rooms, searching for the garden door. Another key, another mirror. Calling on the hallways I have left behind, I cast the spell of Parallel Planning, reordering my arbitrary goal (a product of the Master’s whimsy). I can now move forward–moon, sun, moon to find the library door. I cast a key into a Nightmare’s mouth to fend it off. Another key, another mirror. A brief detour into the Master’s gardens, then it’s moon, sun, moon to reveal the aquarium door. Another Nightmare waits for me, devouring another precious key. Sun, moon, and another Nightmare blocks the way.
I cast the spell of Parallel Planning to make my trip a little easier. Sun–the second library door is found. Another mirror, and a Parallel Planning to bring the blue door closer–my spells are out of juice, for now. It will take more loss, more dream-devouring Nightmares to recharge them. Moon, sun, key, and the last aquarium door is mine. Only red and green remain. Another mirror brings the first red door in reach, then it is moon, sun, and wait for the red door to appear (I hold its key). A mirror might help in this regard. I cast the spell of Paradoxical Prophecy, scanning the farthest corners of the labyrinth for the room I seek. Another mirror–times are desperate now–brings the last red door to my feet. I quicken to the moon garden to reveal the first green door, hoping it is not too late.
Garden now, a Room of Sun…a Nightmare rears its ugly head, but I dispatch it with a spell of Powerful Punishment. But I am already too late–too few garden rooms remain for me to ever find the exit. Tonight, I do not escape.
Last night, I dreamed that I was caught in a labyrinthine block of near-identical rooms or corridors. I say near-identical, because there was one minor difference: in the corner of each room was to be found a small symbol, either a sun, moon or key.
This being a dream, I was subject to the whimsical totalitarianism of dream law, which stated that I could never, under any circumstances, pass through two consecutive rooms bearing the same symbol. I could go through sun, moon, sun; or moon, sun, key; or sun, key, moon; but never sun, sun or moon, moon.
I could only escape from the labyrinth by passing through the eight oneiric doors, two each in red, blue, brown and green. But even these doors were subject to dream law: they would not open to me until I had passed through three rooms of a matching color, or if I happened to encounter them while holding the matching key (those rooms festooned with the key symbol could serve as both labyrinth chamber and key, shrinking or inflating as the situation demanded). At all other times, I was forced to pass them by.
And there was one other thing about these doors: unless I passed through them in a precisely prescribed order, I would not have truly escaped the labyrinth, but would be trapped forever in an imagined freedom. Such were the caprices of the Dream Lords who ruled this place. The prescribed order changed from day to day at the whimsies of the Dream Lords.
At the start of the dream, I received a series of dark premonitions, Hellenic visions of future distress that I was unequipped to prevent. I knew that the moment I had passed through two brown doors, my progress would be undone, and I would find myself facing one already-traversed passage again; I knew that when I had passed through one door of each color, I could kiss my happy dreams (embodiments of good fortune) goodbye; I knew that when I had traversed any two doors of the same color, I would instantly lose knowledge of the first; and I knew that when I traveled through the second green door, one of my dodged nightmares would come back to torment me again.
And there was one more thing: not only was I a dream-fugitive, but here I dreamt I was an architect. On my journey, I had to form an alignment of dream towers, legendary constructions once made forgotten by a powerful incubus, or my escape would be meaningless.
The same dream on a different day. This labyrinth contains 8 oneiric doors and 12 Dream Towers, scattered by an evil Incubus. Before I can escape, I must pass through all the doors in turn and construct an Alignment of Towers, one for each color of the Master’s chambers. Only when the towers are in alignment can they stand unmolested–separately, they topple as easily as a house of cards.
I toss a key onto the ground, and it becomes a mirror, revealing the way ahead. Moon, sun, moon–I have discovered the first brown door while passing through the Master’s library. The labyrinth reconfigures itself. I cast a key into a Nightmare’s mouth to fend it off. Sun, moon, sun–the first green door awaits me in the Master’s garden. A Nightmare devours the way ahead, including one of three brown towers. I press on. A second library tower reveals itself, and I place it into the Alignment, awaiting the others. Another key, another mirror shows me the second tower–a blue one this time, a tower of water. I set it beside the other. Moon, key, moon–the first blue door is found. A Nightmare blocks the way ahead, and like a gust of wind, it topples the blue tower. Two steps forward, one step back. A key reveals no prospects ahead.
I scale the red tower, knowing that it will crumble under my weight, and scout a path forward. Hard luck–I will need to retrace my steps, try another corridor. Moon, sun, moon and the observatory door is mine. Sun, moon, sun and I am through the second garden door. It all seems too easy, but there are still the towers to consider. I place another blue tower into the Alignment. I spin my wheels, passing by now-useless garden rooms, searching for the library moon. Sun, moon, sun and I am there, beyond the second brown door. Only two, one red, one blue, remain, but I have yet to bring the towers into alignment. A Nightmare steals my options, and I call it a false destruction–the towers stand, but the Nightmare slinks back into the labyrinth to await me further on.
A key reveals the folly of my choices. I erect another tower, this one green, and scale another garden tower to scout the way ahead. A red tower reveals itself, but it does not fit with the others I have placed–instead, I use it as a crumbling lookout post. Sun, moon, sun and I am through the last red door. One blue door and one red tower remain. I climb a brown tower and see endless Nightmares, another red tower that will not fit. Sun, key, sun, and I am through the final door, but something is not right…my Alignment is not complete. Tonight, I do not escape.
As mentioned before, these chambers and towers could be shrunk to fit into the palm of my hand, if need be. If I cast away a tower or a key–a risky move, considering their rarity and value–it would trigger a prophecy, affording me a glimpse of the upcoming labyrinth and even allowing me to manipulate its construction or consign a dangerous nightmare to the oblivion of discarded chambers (every labyrinth has one).
Aside from the resizable structures of the labyrinth itself, I was equipped with one thing, an ancient spellbook called the Book of Steps Lost and Found. These spells, powered by the dusty energy of discarded chambers, allowed me to rewrite the daily code of doors, scry into the farthest reaches of the labyrinth, or even dodge nightmares unscathed.
Nightmares are fearful and destructive creatures: they will gleefully destroy a quintet of labyrinth chambers, either those that you carry in your hand or those yet to be discovered, unless you feed them a key (nothing sates them better than knowing they have made your life more difficult). Two of them struck in rapid succession, crumbling both my towers and destroying nearly a dozen unexplored labyrinth chambers.
The same dream on a different day. This labyrinth contains 8 oneiric doors, and I must pass through them all in turn before I can escape. But I have been visited by Dark Premonitions of tragic events that await me on my journey. When I pass through the second garden door, the Nightmares I have escaped will return to feed on more of my hopes. When I pass through the second aquarium door, two keys will be devoured by the limbo that eats away at this place. When I pass through the final red door, all of the Master’s observatory rooms will similarly vanish. And finally, when one door of each color has been discovered, the labyrinth will swallow up my Happy Dreams, never to return. Like all premonitions, these sad events can be anticipated but not avoided.
Sun, moon. A Nightmare awaits me, impeding access to all known corridors. Sun, and the first library door has been discovered. A Happy Dream awaits me, bringing me straight to that which I desire most–the second brown door opens to the key I hold. I cast a key into a Nightmare’s mouth to fend it off. Another key satiates another Nightmare. Sun, moon. I spin my wheels, passing by now-useless library rooms, searching for the observatory sun. I toss a key onto the ground, and it becomes a mirror, revealing the way ahead. Sun, and the first red door is found. Another key, another mirror. Moon, sun, moon brings me to the garden door. Sun, key, sun reveals the second garden door, but not before I lose two keys to the Nightmares’ jaws. A premonition is fulfilled; a vanquished Nightmare returns to life.
Moon, sun, moon brings me the second observatory door, and another premonition is fulfilled as all of the Master’s red chambers vanish into limbo. But there is good news, too, as a Happy Dream greets me. With its aid, I reverse one of my premonitions before it can happen. Another Happy Dream grants me visions of the path forward, vanquishing the Nightmares that lurk ahead. Sun, moon, sun takes me to the first aquarium door and a premonition unfulfilled. Only the final aquarium door remains. The last Happy Dream offers to take me to the blue Room of Moon I seek; then, it vanishes in a mirthful puff. Moon, sun, moon through the Master’s aquarium, and the final door is mine. A premonition is fulfilled, to no great effect. Tonight, I have escaped.
The same dream on a different day….